NBN should shift fixed-wireless areas to FttC: Aussie Broadband

Around 12 percent of NBN's fixed-wireless network is experiencing 'unacceptable congestion', Aussie Broadband has said, calling for more funding to expand the fibre-based networks.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Aussie Broadband has said the federal government should provide "retrofit funding" to move entire National Broadband Network (NBN) fixed-wireless serviced regions over to fibre to the curb (FttC) or fibre to the node (FttN), citing heavy congestion.

The NBN retailer said it used its submission to the regional telecommunications review to call for the funding, arguing that around 18 percent of the fixed-wireless network is experiencing "severe congestion", while 12 percent is "experiencing what NBN defines as unacceptable congestion".

Aussie Broadband specifically named Toongabbie and Glengarry, Victoria; Port Wakefield, Adelaide; Blayney, New South Wales; and Kalbar, Queensland, as towns that could be shifted over to FttC or FttN to free up capacity for those needing to be on fixed-line technology.

"Many denser rural township areas or parts of township areas allocated to fixed-wireless in the early part of the NBN rollout could now be serviced by lower cost FttN or FttC technology," Aussie Broadband MD Phillip Britt said.

"It would not be hard to go back into these towns and retrofit those areas to fixed-line services. It's a natural progression for the NBN, and probably one they already have planned; we would just like to see it funded earlier."

The retail service provider (RSP) had last year similarly called on NBN to pause its fixed-wireless rollout in the same way it halted sales on its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network, saying it needs to repair issues with congestion.

Aussie Broadband, which began publishing its NBN connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) capacity graphs earlier this year, was last month ranked by the consumer watchdog's second speed-monitoring report as the best at delivering on its speed promises.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)'s Measuring Broadband Australia: Report 2, July 2018 [PDF], Aussie Broadband delivered 89.1 percent of its maximum plan speeds overall and 88.3 percent during busy hours for downloads.

Aussie Broadband likewise scored highest on average upload speeds, providing 89.4 percent of its maximum plan speeds overall and 89.1 percent during busy hours.

The ACCC's reports followed the consumer watchdog forcing Telstra, Optus, TPG, iiNet, Internode, Dodo, iPrimus, and Commander to compensate tens of thousands of customers for not providing them with the NBN speeds they were paying for.

NBN CFO Stephen Rue had last week revealed NBN's new wholesale fixed-wireless pricing -- AU$45 for existing customers and AU$65 for new customers on the 50/20Mbps speed tier -- during a joint standing committee hearing; however, after backlash the company retreated.

During NBN's full-year FY18 financial results call last week, NBN CEO Bill Morrow told media that the fixed-wireless pricing is still in consultation with industry.

"This was meant for nothing more than a consultation to say, 'how do you feel about that?'" Morrow said.

"Looking at the reaction behind this ... I'll just take it off the table right now, so we won't do that for the interim product. We'll work with the RSPs on consultation for other means to work through this interim to work out how we can get to that max product and still allow those RSPs to convert their CVCs on the fixed-line technology.

"So consider the AU$65 price for new 50-meg customers on fixed-wireless off the table. Again, it's a consultation, not a decision."

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland had accused NBN of charging regional users higher amounts for the equivalent services available in metro areas.

"A regional customer could pay 44 percent more than someone in the city for the same 50Mbps speed under this plan," Rowland said.

In an effort to combat the fixed-wireless congestion, NBN last month made changes to its network design rules, reducing the number of premises able to connect to each fixed-wireless cell, as well as updating the maximum bandwidth capacity available.

NBN in May revealed in response to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice that it is targeting fixed-wireless congestion at priority cells where speeds are less than 3Mbps during peak periods, with nine towers targeted at the end of November.

In June, the ACCC told the same joint standing committee that it would need an additional AU$6 million to extend its speed-monitoring program to fixed-wireless services.

NBN earlier this year also decided to kill its plans to offer 100Mbps fixed-wireless, saying the decision was about user experience in addition to the funding involved.

"If we were to maintain a user experience for existing customers on the fixed-wireless network, it would have required us to spend much more capital on the fixed-wireless network; it's related to the experience of existing users," Rue explained last week.

According to NBN's "high-level analysis" of the product, it would have cost "a lot of money ... hundreds of millions of dollars", he added.

As of June 30, NBN had 240,084 active end users on fixed-wireless, with the network contributing revenue of AU$70 million during the year after spending AU$353 million in capex, at a cost per premises of AU$3,757.

FttN has a CPP of AU$2,244.

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